Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 -1799)
Symphonies after Ovid's Metamorphoses
(Sinfoniennach Ovids Metamorphosen) Vol. I
Sinfonia No.1 in C major, Die vier Weltalter (The Four Agesof the World)
Sinfonia No.2 in D major, Der Sturz Phaetons (The Fall ofPhaethon)
Sinfonia No.3 in G major, Verwandlung Aktaonsin einen Hirsch
(Transformation of Actaeoninto a Stag)
In theautobiography dictated to his son Carl Ditters gives a brief account of hisparentage. He was born in Vienna in 1739, the son of acostume-maker employed at the court theatre under Charles the Sixth, a man whoalso served as a first lieutenant in the citizen's artillery and took part inthe wars that followed the death of that ruler. He had a good general educationand in 1751 joined the musical establishment of the Prince of Sachsen-Hildburghausen,where he was able to undertake a more concentrated study of music, withcomposition lessons from Giuseppe Bonno. The Prince left Vienna in 1761 anddisbanded his musical establishment, finding a position for Ditters and some ofhis colleagues under Count Durazzo in the court opera and orchestra. Thisbrought a close acquaintance with dramatic music, not least through Gluck, withwhom he travelled to Italy in 1763, making an impression himself asa violinist and meeting Italian musicians of distinction, including PadreMartini and the castrato Farinelli.
In 1764 CountDurazzo resigned his position, compelled to do so by the hostile intrigues of Reutterand others associated with the court, and was appointed ambassador to Venice, a positionhe held for some twenty years. Ditters found difficulty in working under Durazzo'ssuccessor and resigned in order to take up an appointment as Kapellmeister tothe Bishop of Grosswardein, where he succeeded Michael Haydn, younger brotherof Joseph Haydn. When the musical establishment was disbanded in 1769, he foundemployment as Kapellmeister to the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, Count Schaffgotsch,at Johannisberg, coupling this position with that of Forstmeister (forestry superintendent)in the Neisseregion. In 1mhe was ennobled by the Empress, taking theadditional title of von Dittersdorf. This enabled hirn to become Amtshauptmann,chief official, of Freiwaldau, retaining this position and his work at Johannisbergin spite of an apparent suggestion that he become court composer in Vienna, insuccession to Gassmann, who had died in 1774. The war of the Bavariansuccession brought difficulties for his patron and consequently forDittersdorf, who spent the years after the Prince-Bishop's death in 1795 inretirement. He had been able, in 1793, to provide a series of Singspiel forFriedrich-August of Brunswick-?ûls, continuing a form of composition in which hehad long been distinguished, but which werenowimpossible at Johannisberg. He diedin 1799 at Neuhof in Bohernia, where he had settled at the invitation of Baron Ignazvon Stillfried.
Dittersdorfwas prolific as a composer, winning a reputation for his dramatic works,notably in the form of Singspiel, and his instrumental music, the latterincluding some 120 symphonies, a series of concertos and a quantity of Chambermusic. His vocal and choral music included four successful oratorios. The Irishtenor Michael Kelly, the first Don Basilio rn Mozart's Le nozze dl Figaro, reportshaving heard Dittersdorf in a quartet at the house of his friend Stephen Storace,with Haydn playing first violin, Dittersdorf second, Mozart viola and thecomposer Vanhal cello. Dittersdorf was a respected figure in the musical circlesof the time, welcomed and engaged in conversation by the Emperor himself, as herecounted to his son.
Six of the twelveSymphonies after the Metamorphoses of Ovid survive in their original form.
These were written in 1783and introduced to the public in Vienna three yearslater, when Dittersdorf had occasion to visit the city for the firstperformance of his oratorio Giobbe Gob). He relates in his autobiographyhow, by special permission of the Emperor, he had arranged to have six of thesymphonies performed in the Augarten, an event for which Baron van Swieten,arbiter of musical taste at court and patron of Mozart and Haydn, had taken ahundred tickets. Bad weather led him to try to postpone the concert, butdifficulties arose when he sought permission from the police, since a newdecision of the cabinet was needed for any such change of plan. Dittersdorf wasobliged to seek out a court official to authorise the postponement and in doingso found himself in conversation with the Emperor himself, an event that herecounts in some detail.
The Metamorphosesof the Roman poet Ovid contains, in its fifteen books, a compendium ofGreek and Roman mythology and legend. In spite of the title, this is not simplya book of changes in Latin hexameters, but an inspired and episodic narrative,in which stories are only loosely connected one to the other .Opening withChaos, Ovid soon moves on to the four ages of the world, the subject of thefirst of Dittersdorf's symphonies, the sjnfonja in C major, Die vjer Weltalter.
Scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani,with strings, the first movement introduces the peace of the golden age - aureaprjma sata est aetas, the golden age was first established, an age in whichmen kept faith without any compulsion. The movement is dominated by itstranquil opening theme and is followed by an evocation of the silver age - subiitargentea proles auro deterjor, there followed the silver Ii race, lesserthan gold, more precious than tawny bronze, now with its four seasons."The music is livelier in a tripartite sonata-form movement. This leads to the Minuetto con garbo, a graceful minuet, to represent the age of bronze - tertiapost illas successjt aenea proles, third after those followed the bronzerace, more savage in spirit and prompter to make war. The A minor minuet isangular in theme, with a trio section of greater suavity .The symphony endswith the age of iron - de duro est ultjma ferro, the last is of hardiron, an age when all wickedness is let loose. A descending chromatic figureopens the movement in increasingly rapid note values, continuing with amilitary fanfare and music of greater excitement which eventually subsides,leading to a final Allegretto that is gracious enough at first, but endswith the agitation of an age of violence.
The second ofthe set, the symphony in D major, Der Sturz Phaetons, withsimilar instrumentation but no timpani, deals with Ovid 's version of thelegend of Phaethon, son of Helios (the Sun) and Clymene, a mortal. Phaethon soughtout his father, who offered him one gift, whatever he should ask. Phaethonasked to drive his father's chariot for one day and, in spite of his father'swarning, attempted this feat. The horses of the Sun bolted and brought dangerof fire to the earth, until Zeus, the king of the gods, hurled a thunderbolt athim.
Phaethon fellinto the river Eridanus, where he died. Dittersdorf'